Tetsuro Koyano’s great-grandfather was a renowned sword master. Five years ago Koyano decided to turn emotion and passion into reality and accomplishment, by starting a collection of historic Samurai armour, helmets, guns and swords. In 2015 he opened the Samurai Museum in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo to allow visitors to get up close and personal with the world of the samurai, and for the action-oriented, the opportunity to practice stances, glares, threats and thrusts (using wooden swords) alongside the resident sword master.
It’s a pretty thrilling museum but only one of many Tokyo activities that respond to the needs of today’s traveller to realize value in every vacation experience as well as to get involved in, and conned with the destination, to better understand what makes it tick.
In the Monzen Nakacho area of Tokyo we headed to Orihara, a stand-up sake bar on a busy side street. The plastic milk crates piled on top of each other and topped with a square of wood laminate serve as tables outside the entrance, while inside the bar lies a treasure trove of up to 150 different sakes (depending on the season).
Takeshi Hashimoto the manager, explained that the bar features the products of small sake producers throughout the country to show not only the diversity of the brews but also the creative talents of sake brewers. Patrons can sample and quaff to their heart’s content as they seek sakes that best match their mood and their palate.
Not too far away in the Shimbashi area, a building full of small eateries and stand-up sake bars features Shinshu Osake Mura. This bar specializes in sakes from the Nagano region but to stay in touch with the latest trends, it has recently become a magnet for craft beer aficionados who enjoy the refreshing complexity of flavours that craft beers have to offer. In fact while we were in the bar, several tourists dropped by to purchase bottles as gifts and souvenirs.
And with taste in mind, we attended a Bento Making class with True Japan Tour, to learn about the allure of the ubiquitous ‘bento’ box. ‘Bento’ means ‘convenience’ and usually refers to a lunch box, divided into sections, each containing a different food item. They are sold in food courts, convenience stores, bus terminals, train stations and airports, with each type of box featuring different food combinations.
Jet lag can be a wonderful thing. If you find yourself wide awake at 5 A.M. and in the mood for some predawn action, the cavernous wholesale Tsukiji Fish Market seethes with activity, as you would expect of a place that supplies 90 percent of the fish consumed in Tokyo.
Wander this staggering market’s side aisles; you won’t believe some of the things considered edible, much less prized delicacies. In a country where fresh seafood reigns supreme, maguro (tuna) is king: fresh and frozen, torpedo-size tunas are hauled in from the fishing boats alongside the market’s riverside piers or flown in from as far away as Africa.
At any of the lightning-fast auctions that begin the day, as many as 190 tons of tuna can be sold, and one fish alone can weigh more than 1,000 pounds. If you’ve worked up an appetite wandering the 50-acre market and are considering sashimi or sushi for breakfast, no one guarantees fresher fish nor a wider variety than the market’s no-frills sushi bars, such as Sushi Dai. They get high marks for local color too.